Where does your identity come from? Where do we receive our value from? Where do we look to understand – where we find out who we really are? Well, we have to look at the Bible for one thing. And I thought it might be interesting to take a moment or two to look to the New Testament to see exactly what Christ and the apostles had to say about women.
A university English professor wrote several words on the blackboard. He wrote the words: A woman without her man is nothing. Then he asked his English students to punctuate that sentence. So the men in the class, they punctuated it: A woman, without her man, is nothing. Now the ladies in the class, they wrote: A woman, without her, man is nothing. Sometimes we have quite a different perspective on things, don’t we?
But I think it speaks to maybe a greater issue. Have you ever thought, “Why did God make me a woman?” Okay, I have never thought that, just so we get that straight! But have you ever thought that? “Who am I? Why? Am I some kind of perhaps inferior creature?” Maybe because God made Adam first, was womankind an after thought – something like well, “I guess I should do a little bit more perhaps,” God thought? Or I wonder if you have ever been confused – maybe confused about your identity. Well, what is interesting. You shouldn’t be. You shouldn’t be, because you do have value and you do know where your identity comes from.
Let’s think about that for a moment. Where does your identity come from? Where do we receive our value from? Where do we look to understand – where we find out who we really are? Well, we have to look at the Bible for one thing. And I thought it might be interesting to take a moment or two to look to the New Testament to see exactly what Christ and the apostles had to say about women.
As I started to look a little bit deeper into this subject, I began to notice something that just jumped out at me. The first thing that jumped out at me was – when I began to notice – Jesus Christ doesn’t treat women as inferior. He never does. He never treats them as second rate and, as we read the New Testament, we might think, “Well, of course, that sounds very normal. That sounds natural. Of course, Jesus Christ wouldn’t treat women any less than men.”
But wait a second. If we were to put ourselves back at the first century. I mean here we are – we are in the 21st century – from our comfortable point of view and women can do everything, but back then, this was a big deal. And, in fact, no time – there isn’t one example – in the ministry of Jesus Christ where He expresses negative attitudes toward women. Not one! Not one! Now that is remarkable because, first century attitudes towards women were anything but very positive.
I think all of us have heard of the historian Josephus, haven’t we? Often times you’ll hear Josephus quoted in sermons. He was a wonderful historian, but you know what Josephus said about women? He said: The woman, says the law, is in all things inferior to the man. Does anybody want to give Josephus a round of applause? Okay, nobody wants to do that, but that’s that first century point of view that he had. It is remarkable when you think about the view of women at that time – the time of Christ.
There was a famous Jewish Rabbi – it was Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurcanus. Do you know what he said? He said, “Rather should the words of the Torah (the law) be burnt than entrusted to a woman.” He better not come through that door, right? He better not. He will be in trouble. You see, one of the issues was, the Jewish men of the day followed right along with the Greek tradition. And that tradition was that they prayed and they thanked God every day that He didn’t make them a woman. Can you imagine? That is what they prayed! Jewish men would not be seen talking to a woman in public – not even talking to his wife in public. Can you imagine that? And so, under no circumstances – this is remarkable – no circumstances should a woman touch a man in public. That was disallowed – unacceptable – and so the world that Jesus Christ was born into was very, very different from ours. But you know what? Christ was different.
There is an interesting example over in Luke 20 . Let’s notice how Jesus does not treat women as inferior. Now in this particular example, He faces the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the upper crust. They were the social and the economic heights of Judean society of the day. They were important politically; they were important socially; they were important even in some of the religious roles that they would do – they had charge of maintaining the temple. Of course, those were the people that also believed that there was no resurrection and that there were no angels. They didn’t believe in the spirit, in that sense, and so in this particular situation, they wanted to trap Jesus Christ with one of their favorite questions. And this question stems back to Deuteronomy 25:5 Deuteronomy 25:5If brothers dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without to a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother to her.
American King James Version×, that provided for a man’s brother to raise up children – if he would happen to die with no kids, it was his responsibility to take his brother’s wife and raise up children. And so the Sadducees loved to pose this question to the others, supposedly based on the law. And they wanted to trap him. This was a common question. So in Luke 20:27 Luke 20:27Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him,
American King James Version× we see Christ and the Sadducees.
Luke 20:27 Luke 20:27Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him,
American King James Version× Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him,
V.28 – saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.
So they point back to Deuteronomy 25:5 Deuteronomy 25:5If brothers dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without to a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother to her.
American King James Version× . All right, we’ve set up the scenario; we are going to close the trap on this young upstart. Well, they said:
V.29 – Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife, and died without children.
V.30 – And the second took her as wife, and he died childless.
V.31 – Then the third took her, and in like manner the seven also; (oneafter another, after another) and they left no children, and died.
V.32 – Last of all the woman died also.
Here’s the question; here’s the trap:
V.33 – Therefore, in the resurrection – which really what they’re saying is, “Since there isn’t any resurrection…we are going to prove this by your answer, which will be totally lame.” That’s kind of what they are setting Him up for. How are you going to figure this one out?
V.33 – Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife does she become? For all seven had her as wife.”
All right, we are probably familiar with the story but did you notice something? What they are asking is just as revealing as the answer that Christ gives. What were they saying by their question? Did you catch it there? They understood that the woman belonged to the man, even in the Kingdom! That she was his possession. That is how they viewed her and that’s why Jesus’ answer is so amazing. Look what He says:
V.34 – Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.
V.35 – But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage;
V.36 – nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels (who is equal to the angels?) and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
So, what was Christ saying? Christ says, “I reject your assumption that she belongs to her husband, or any other man,” because according to Jesus Christ, “women are equally children of God with men in the resurrection.” That is what Christ is saying. Men and women are equal in God’s plan of salvation. Period.
So Jesus didn’t see a women’s existence as totally defined by her relationship to a man. That is important. Let me say that again. A women’s existence is not totally defined by her relationship to a man. Not even today. That may sound a little odd, but that is what Christ was saying. Said differently, you could say, “A woman should not be viewed only as someone’s wife, or someone’s mother, or someone’s daughter, or as someone’s widow. Jesus saw women as individuals. He saw them as individuals who had personal access to God and could be full-fledged members of His family in His Kingdom.
Doesn’t that point to where your value really comes from? You see our value as men and women comes from God. He sets the standard. He shows us the way. And so over and over again, throughout Christ’s ministry on this earth, He points this out. He draws attention to this fact and so, oftentimes, we will find Christ using women in His stories – using them in His parables. But in those stories – I am not sure if you’ve ever noticed – there is something missing. In His parables, in His stories, the negativity is missing. He never cast negative images of women. But boy, look out! He talks about unjust judges. He talks about cruel masters. He talks about wicked judges. He says a lot about wicked and lazy servants, but every image of a woman is positive.
That is such an amazing thing, because it leads us to a second concept that Christ continually pointed out: He upheld the dignity of women. Over and again, when you look through Scripture, Jesus upholds the dignity of women. If you turn back just a couple of pages – to Luke 18 – we’ll see an example of what is often sometimes called, “The parable of the unjust judge.” It is in Luke 18 – right there at the very beginning of the chapter, and it pits this poor widow against a powerful, yet unfair and biased – okay I’ve got to say it – male judge. And so she comes up against him.
Now it is interesting. If you were to really get a grip on what a judge did throughout Israel…. There were several courts throughout the country. The one we normally think of is the Sanhedrin and, of course, that would have been in Jerusalem – the main court. It was a judicial court and would have been thought of as, in a sense, the supreme court of Israel. It existed of seventy-one members. Now that was just the ultimate court. Now every city throughout the country, that had one hundred twenty men, would have their own Sanhedrin – their own judicial court – a lesser Sanhedrin – and that would normally consist of twenty-three members. Now if you didn’t have one hundred twenty men – of course, we didn’t count the women – remember we are back in the first century again – so if you didn’t have one hundred twenty men in your town, you had three judges.
So, in this particular example, how many judges are referred to here? Just one. Does that tell us something about the size of the town that this is taking place in? Okay, we get it. It is a small town. We are in a little town. No matter whether you served in a small town, a town that had one hundred twenty or more men, or whether you were on the supreme court – the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem – these judges were to be meek. They were to be fair. They were to judge with wisdom. They were supposed to hate money – mammon. They were supposed to uphold the truth and be masters of a good name. That’s who they were to be. And yet, look what we find here. Here Christ is speaking a parable and He starts out telling this story:
Luke 18:1 Luke 18:1And he spoke a parable to them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
American King James Version× Then He spoke a parable to them – that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.
So Christ draws attention to something. He says:
V.2 – “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.
V.3 – Now there was a widow in that city : (it had to be a small town) and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’
V.4 – And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man,
V.5 – yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
V.6 – Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said.
V.7 – And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?
V.8 – I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
So we read this story and what is Christ saying here? Is the widow condemned for being persistent, for continually coming before the judge, for petitioning him over and over and over again? Not at all. In fact, Christ commends the woman as an example of persistent prayer. It is one of the themes of the weekend, isn’t it? She was persistently after this judge. Just like we need to be persistent in our prayers. Wasn’t that the lesson of the story? If you go back again to:
Luke 18:1 Luke 18:1And he spoke a parable to them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
American King James Version× – Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart.
So probably, better thought of, rather than the parable of the unjust judge - probably a man gave it that title, I’m not sure - really, shouldn’t we think of this as the parable of the persistent widow? I think that probably fits a little bit better because certainly Jesus Christ is upholding the dignity of women. He lived in an age when few men would do that. Yet He didn’t share the attitudes of those around him. He didn’t have that perspective. He was different than the contemporaries around Him and He felt it important to make a statement about His attitude toward women.
So when you read stories like this, it is no wonder that women loved Jesus Christ. He had a strong and very loyal following among women, and it is just remarkable that He breaks through these cultural limitations. He doesn’t take society’s values to heart. In fact, He associates with women. And that is significant and is important. And He looked after them. And they supported Him. And this was something that was unusual. This was not normal for the day. And so He is shown as being merciful. He is shown as being empathetic. He is shown as loving and caring for them. He is a guardian of women. He is an advocate for women. You look through the different stories of Christ’s ministry – He is a protector of womanhood and He loves women and He demonstrates that over and over and over in His compassion. So Christ Himself valued women.
So often times in our world we lose track of where value really comes from. What makes us valuable? And often times we look at our positions, we look at our titles, we look at our pocket book and we think that is where our value comes from.
You may have heard the story about the CEO of the Fortune 500 Company. This guy had everything. He and his wife were on a trip. They pulled into a gas station to get some gas. He went in immediately to pay for that gas. His wife came in to get a little snack and she started talking to the attendant that was there and they seemed to get into a pretty deep conversation for a moment or two. Well, it turned out that the station attendant went to High School with his wife and she actually dated this guy. Well, he was feeling pretty good about himself – being the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, so they paid for the gas, finally concluded, got in the car, started down the road again. Now he is feeling fairly smug, but couldn’t help it. He had to say something. So, being the man that he was, he said, “Honey, I bet I know what you’re thinking. I bet you’re thinking you are so glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO and that you didn’t marry him – this gas station attendant, right?” His wife paused for a moment and said, “No, I was thinking, if I’d married him, he’d be a Fortune 500 CEO and you’d be the gas station attendant.”
You see, sometimes we get confused where our value comes from, don’t we? And so often times, there are amazing situations that come up that really show us where our value truly comes from. And in fact, when you look to the ministry of Christ, He shows that women have a very, very special place – how they exemplify love and faith. In fact, let’s think about that for a moment.
Christ showed that women exemplified love and faith and He does that in another happen stance, another circumstance that takes place.
Luke 7 – it is recorded for us – an amazing event. An event that is profoundly moving and it takes place not this time with the Sadducees, but this time it takes place in the home of a Pharisee – in a Pharisee’s home. He invited Jesus to dinner and at this dinner, of course, were a number of people. The home of a Pharisee – now remember what a Pharisee was. They were a religious group. These were the ones who were the interpreters of the law. They didn’t want to touch anything that was bad. They didn’t want any of these terrible Greek influences. They were the separators. They wanted to be separate and so they were Pharisees. They were a “ pharisaeus ” that meant, to separate. So with that in mind, here is Christ at the separator’s house – the one who is very precise in all that he would do – and as Christ is reclining at the table as they are getting ready to eat for dinner. Imagine this scene. Now remember…remember we are still back there in the first century. Remember what the situation was and how people regarded women.
Luke 7:36 Luke 7:36And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
American King James Version× Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat.
V.37 – And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, (now that’s kind of a nice way not to draw attention to the kind of woman that she was. She wasn’t a nice woman) when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil,
V.38 – and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
V.39 – Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
V.40 – And Jesus answered and said to him ,
I always find it interesting – as a side point – Luke 7:39 Luke 7:39Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spoke within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that touches him: for she is a sinner.
American King James Version×– it says: He said to himself . Was he just thinking that? Did he actually say that out loud or was that rolling around in his brain? Kind of says, it might not even have spoken out loud, and yet Christ answers that thought, whether it was spoken or not.
V.40 – And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
And He goes through this story:
V.41 – “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty .
V.42 – And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. (So Christ forgave them both) Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
V.43 – Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”
Now let’s learn the real lesson, He says.
V.44 – Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.
V.45 – You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.
V.46 – You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.
V.47 – Therefore I say to you her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
And so once again, instead of seeing the sin, instead of seeing the guilt and all the problems, Christ upholds this woman as an example of love and faith. He contrasted the two attitudes – between her attitude and the attitude of a Pharisee – because Jesus not only spoke to her, but He let her touch Him, and He let her kiss Him. And that would have been scandalous to do, especially in public. In fact, it was so scandalous in the first century, if a woman would let her hair down in public, that wife would probably be divorced. The husband would have grounds for divorce. So Christ let this woman uncover her hair – loosed it – and wiped His feet with it. And He was moved by her actions. On the other hand, the Pharisee was offended.
This is such a remarkable reminder that no matter where we’re at, when we bow before our great God, when we kneel before Him in tears of gratitude, in tears of repentance, doesn’t this help us to realize that no matter how difficult the situation, no matter how great the sin, no matter how we miss the mark, He is there and He is there not to condemn, but He is there with utter and complete forgiveness. That is the example that Christ set. And it is possible. It is more than possible. We know it to be true.
So how do we know it to be true? Because of the example of a woman. If this example was not in the Bible, we wouldn’t be able to grasp the unique situation – how thoroughly and completely God really does forgive us and how He applies the sacrifice of Christ to every single one of us. So Christ, over and over again, continues to show, when He is in situations like this, His attitude is always one of total forgiveness and so when we see it we know, we know Christ exemplified the example of a woman and He sees that example as one of love and service. He never bowed down to the society and their traditions around him. Can you imagine? This woman was already condemned by society and yet Christ wasn’t about to condemn her.
He encouraged her and gave her hope and so ultimately I think it will be fair to say that Jesus Christ is a champion of women. Wasn’t that what He was all about? He was a champion to the blind – He came to set them free. He was a champion to the lame. He was a champion to the oppressed. And He couldn’t neglect one of the most oppressed classes of the day – the women – the women, because it is challenging. It is difficult – it is difficult when you are neglected. It is difficult when you are oppressed. That can even shade your thinking today. Sometimes, as we think about who we are, we can feel that somehow we are neglected or overlooked, but, you know, once again, where do we find our value? Where is our value found?
I was reminded of the story of a widow who was shopping and she saw this young man who was also walking through the supermarket. He was just stopping to pick up a couple of little things at the grocery store. And as he was going through the store, he noticed this old lady who was kind of following him around – kind of stalking him a little bit. He tried to ignore it. He finally went up to the clerk to check out, and sure enough, there is that old lady, that seemed to follow him all around, right in front of him in the check out line. Just as they were getting up to check out, the little lady kind of looked up at him with these sad eyes, and she said, “I’m sorry. I am sorry I have been staring and kind of following you around.” She said, “You know, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. It is just that you look just like my son and he died last week.” The young man suddenly felt guilty, and he said, “I am sorry. Can I do anything for you?” The little old lady said, “Boy, you really could. Would you mind, when I go out the door, would you just kind of wave, and say, ‘Goodbye, mother?’ That will just make my day.” He said, “Well sure, I can do that.” So she checked out and was heading out the door, and of course, being the nice man that he was, he looked at her and waved. “Goodbye, Mother!” Then he stepped up to check out and the clerk said to him, “That will be $327.50.” He said, “What do you mean? I just got a couple of things here.” The clerk said to him, “Well, don’t worry. Your mother said you would pay for hers.” You’ve got to watch out!
One of the things that is interesting, as we follow the story through the Bible, there is no doubt that Jesus Christ had many disciples – men and many women. But sometimes, when we get to the New Testament Church, we might feel that there is some kind of disconnect that happened there between the time of Christ and then after the crucifixion and resurrection, and then the apostles appear on the scene. As we get to Acts 2, and then we get to Acts 6, and we find deacons ordained, and then sometimes you might think, “Wow, were the apostles a bunch of male chauvinists or what?” Suddenly now it is all these men that are running the church.
Well, what about that? Are women to be involved in the work of the church? What does the Bible have to say about it, because certainly there is work to be done? There is work to be done. But what about a woman’s place in that work? Well, there is a remarkable section in Romans 16.
This is at the very end of the book of Romans. And as Paul is writing to God’s church there – right at the heart of the beast – right in Rome – we find one example. And in fact, this is just one of many examples that are found throughout the Epistles – that are found throughout the book of Acts – of women – illustrations of women who are not only a part of the church, but very active. In fact, you could say, vital to the work of God’s church – right back there in the first century. So when we pose the question, “Are women to be involved in the work of the Church?” We are going to see the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” No doubt.
Here at the end of Paul’s letter, as he is concluding, he makes a special note of several individuals right there in Rome. In fact, the first one he starts with is Phoebe. Let’s notice what it says here.
Romans 16:1 Romans 16:1I commend to you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
American King James Version× I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea .
So here is this woman – a servant. A servant! Now we might read right over that in English and think, “Well okay, she helped down at the potlucks, I guess.” Is that is what this is saying here? No doubt – a servant of the church. She was a helper. But if you look up what this word really means – as a servant, it is pointing out the fact that she was an official servant. She wasn’t just someone that helped out. She was a deaconess, because this word, that is used here, is the same word for a deacon – or the female version – a deaconess – and so we see what Paul says about it. Paul admonishes:
V.2 – …that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.
So not only did she serve in an official capacity as a deaconess in the congregation there – and of course, Cenchrea being a kind of a…I guess you could say it was a part of Corinth – a little suburb of the greater city of Corinth – she was there. She helped. She served. And Paul says some remarkable things. What does he tell the people in Rome? In fact, he is commending Phoebe to them because of the job she had.
Do you know who delivered the letter to the church in Rome? It wasn’t Timothy. It wasn’t Titus. It wasn’t Silvanus. It was Phoebe. She was the deliverer of the letter. So that is why he is commending her to them. And he tells them, “Receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints” – not just the men.
You see, Paul has the same image as Christ, doesn’t he? “Worthy of the saints” – another one of the saints. The sex of this person should have no bearing on how you receive her. And he describes the kind of person that she is. And she was a helper. Of course, we read that in the English, and we think, “Oh, that is nice. She kind of helped out a little bit.” Well, the word there is “ prostatis “. Prostatis is the Greek word. Paul says she helped “ many and myself also.”
Now if you read that in various translations, it seems to kind of side step the real depth of the meaning of the word. Most translations say, “A helper.” Others say, “A benefactor.” Some say, “A good friend.” Others say, “A sponsor.” But the word is prostatis and it is only used once. This is the only occurrence of it in the New Testament – one time, and so to really understand what this word means we really need to look at how it was used in society.
How was this word used in society? Literally it means to be over; to be a superintendent or to preside over. Now we are not talking about authority over men. That is not the issue. But it does have the meaning to call attention to, or to care for, but in the sense of someone who is responsible to do those things, responsible for coming to the aid of others, responsible for caring for the affairs of others.
If you looked into classical Greek literature it literally means a female guardian; a protectoress; a patroness. And so there is so much to what Paul is saying here. He says Phoebe was a highly responsible woman in the church. She was a deaconess as well. So she was rich. She was generous. She was giving – not just monetarily, but of herself. And so, by extension, we can understand that she must have been a defender of the needy, protector of the poor, a guardian of the Truth as she served God’s people. Phoebe must have been an amazing woman.
You know, she wasn’t the only one. She wasn’t the only one. In fact, you look at the story:
V.3 – He says: Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.
A man and a woman are fellow workers. They work together. They are co-workers. We could translate that, “They were co-workers in Christ.” They were companions in keeping the work going. That is what they were doing. And it is very evident, if you follow the story of Priscilla through, that she was a vital part of her husband’s ministry. In fact, she was a co-worker in that ministry. You’ll find them mentioned six times in scripture. What is interesting about it: do you know how many times Priscilla is mentioned first? Remember they are co-workers. How many times? Maybe just this once? No, three times. They are mentioned six times. Half of the time she is first; half of the time he’s mentioned first.
You think Paul’s pointing out the importance of women? Absolutely. Absolutely. If we were to look to the story where they are helping Apollos to understand God’s plan more thoroughly, it wasn’t just Aquila that expounded the scriptures to him, it was Priscilla as well. They both expounded the passages – the truth. That is in Acts 18. You can check that out later.
Priscilla had a part to play in all of that. So they were the ones that taught. They were the ones that lived the gospel – that taught the gospel. They were the ones that travelled with Paul. They were the ones that worked together and risked their lives for the sake of the gospel – for the sake of Paul, the apostle himself. And so Paul worked with them. He worked with them. He worshipped with them. They travelled with Paul and they had a congregation that they helped guide.
And so as we see, the apostle Paul – he, like Jesus Christ – took great pains to salute and honor women – in fact, not only these two, but other women in Rome – other women in Rome. Can you imagine someone writing a letter to the church and your name is in it? That would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it? Have your name in it. So imagine reading all these – and this is the part where you get to the end of Romans, and you just zip right through it, because all these names – “Yeah, greet them, and greet her, and greet him and greet, greet, greet. Okay, I’ve got it.” But we can’t take it that simply. We have to understand. Remember the type of society that there was there. This would be highly unusual to do this - for an apostle – especially someone in great authority – to recognize women. So here he is a little bit later, and look at:
V.12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord.
Those are three ladies. Those are three ladies that Paul specifically points out, who labored much. They worked especially hard for God and so he commends their work. And this isn’t the only book that he does that. It talks about Euodia and Syntyche over in Philippians, as well. So obviously, oftentimes, Paul points to women, and he exhorts others that “ these women helped and labored with me in the gospel” . (Philippians 4:3 Philippians 4:3And I entreat you also, true yoke fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.
American King James Version×)
So they helped preached the gospel, but see, they have a function in the church – that there is an excellent contribution that women need to make. He recognizes that they are influential. He recognizes that they have an exceptional role. He recognizes that they have great responsibility and one that, perhaps, men can’t fulfill.
As you think about that, you might think, “Yeah, but what about that thing about submission?” You know, I know it says a lot about that in the Bible for women. Well, let’s take a little side journey for just a moment here. We are going to flip over to 1 Peter 3 . This is a section of scripture we can spend a whole sermon on, if we wanted to, but I just want to take a side adventure here – just a side story for just a moment to think about this – just for a second. Because, what about that? What about submission?
Well, in 1 Peter 3, we know, as wives, we are to be submissive to our own husband and there is no doubt throughout scripture that God ordained the husband as the head of the family. But does that mean a lesser position? Does that mean “I am somehow lower class?” Well, that is what societies assumed forever, it seems, but that is not the case when you understand what the Bible teaches. The husband is the head of the wife as a leader among equals. The husband is the head of the wife as a leader among equals . Yes, there are different responsibilities, but we have an equal calling. We have an equal plane. Our goal in marriage is to be the relationship of Christ and the church. And so, when you look at 1 Peter 3 - some amazing things here. It says:
1 Peter 3:1 1 Peter 3:1Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
American King James Version× Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands ,
It doesn’t say you have to be submissive to every man that comes along. You’ll probably be in trouble if you did that. Right? No! “ to your own husbands “! He says:
V.1 … that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,
Wow! You think that is an important role – for one thing? Imagine if your husband is not a part of God’s way – they don’t understand the truth – that they could be won – not by talking, not by preaching, not by nagging, but by our example. It says without a word – without a word . And so that is an amazing, amazing concept that Peter is referring to here. You have a remarkable role to play. Yes, husbands are head of the family, but a woman’s role – well, it is kind of interesting. Peter turns to the husbands, and he says:
V.7 – Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel,
Now he is talking physically speaking. Generally women aren’t as strong and powerful as men. That is a general thing, absolutely. So he says give honor to the wife as the physically weaker one. Then he says:
V.7 - … as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
So we find there’s mutual submission in marriage and in the church, isn’t there? Yes, the husband is the head of the family. There is no doubt about that – absolutely – but we see here, the church can’t be blessed – a marriage can’t be blessed – if the husband continually puts down, humiliates and denigrates his wife. That’s a tough situation for growth to happen. It can’t happen in a marriage. It can’t happen in the church. Paul recognized that. Christ recognized that. And here Peter is stating it as well.
It is interesting that he says, if we don’t honor women – if we don’t – there is going to be a spiritual impact. Did you catch that? There is a spiritual impact. Our prayers will be hindered. We won’t have the right relationship with God. We can’t represent Christ in the church – the bridegroom marrying the bride. We can’t be living examples of that in our marriages if we don’t honor one another, if we don’t see each other as valuable in each other’s eyes, if we don’t follow the God-ordained household of men being the head of the family, and wives being submissive to their husbands. It doesn’t mean a lesser role. It means different responsibilities – different responsibilities . And so Peter emphasizes that. And so, if we don’t recognize women as heirs equally in the Kingdom of God, Peter says that is going to interfere with our relationship with God. We are not going to have a right relationship, if we don’t do that, and so Peter points that out so clearly.
Now you might say, “Well, okay, but what about Paul? He said let those women be quiet in churches. Right?” Well, he did. Yes, that is what he said, isn’t it?
1 Corinthians 14:34 1 Corinthians 14:34Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted to them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also said the law.
American King James Version× Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak… – but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.
All right, they are not to speak in church. Does that mean they all have to be quiet and not say a word when we come in to the holy convocation? No, that is not what it is saying at all, right? I think the first century men would have appreciated that, but here we might not realize that even Paul himself is saying something different here, because we might say, “Oh, no! Women can’t get up and give the sermon. That is terrible. That is awful.” Wait a second. That is what Paul says and he calls on the authority of God as back up that women are not to get up in church and give the sermons or the prayers. Is that what he says? Yes. That is what he is saying.
All right, how do we take that then? Do we take that as, “Oh, that is terrible, that is awful. Somehow I am less of a person because I can’t get up and preach.” Well, think about that for a second. Are all men called to get up and preach? They are not, are they? They are not. Not every one has been given that opportunity, or that gift, to get up and preach. So not every man has all of the gifts that God gives and the same goes true for women. Paul is making it very clear. Not everyone in the church is given all the gifts of the spirit. When it comes to speaking in the church, Paul says that’s a man’s job and yet not all men have that responsibility.
In fact, just a couple of pages back – if you go to 1 Corinthians 12:4 1 Corinthians 12:4Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
American King James Version× – he talks about these gifts that are given. And he makes the point that a woman’s role is not diminished because they are not called to preach. He says, “Don’t ever think like that. Don’t ever take it that way, because we are co-heirs with Christ.” We are heirs together, as Peter said. So when we look at 1 Corinthians 12:4 , we see that Paul says there are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. And so these wonderful “gifts” is from this word in Greek, kharisma , where we get our word charisma from. They are gifts. Kharis is grace. God gracefully gives these gifts, because He wants too – not because we deserve it, not because we are good enough, not because He owes us, but because He is an awesome God, who loves us and cares for us, and He gives us things that we don’t deserve – that we don’t deserve. So he says there are diversities of these gifts – many kinds of gifts – and he starts to go through a couple of those gifts that God pours out on us. He says:
Could that include women? Well, women aren’t ministers. The word there is a servant . There are many different ways to serve and minister to people. One might be able to get up front here and talk here at church services. There are many ways to serve, Paul points out – many ways, but you know there is one God – different ways to serve with one God. He says:
V.6 – And there are diversities of activities – lots of different ways to work – “different workings” that word can mean.
In fact if you looked it up in the Greek, it looks like the word energy . We all have different kinds of energy so that we can accomplish the tasks at hand. That is what he is pointing out here, but we’ve got the same God.
V.6 … but it is the same God who works all in all.
We serve our great God and we do it together.
V.7 – But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all;
See, he didn’t say the manifestation of the Spirit is given to men only and you women get in the back seat. He doesn’t say that. He says, “ the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one “. God’s Spirit is demonstrated in our life. We see the evidence of God’s Spirit in every single converted Christian. And you know what? It is not just for me. It is not just for you. It is for all. It is to profit everyone. So God didn’t call us and give us His Spirit just to keep it, but to give it and serve – and give so every one profits.
V.8 – for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit.
Women have a knack of giving wise counsel and they can do it in a way – it is hard to say – that a man can’t. It’s different. And God says it is very good. So have you given the word of wisdom? Can you do that? I think so.
V.8 - … to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,
Well, when you get it, and then you have a clear understanding of something, and you could be precise, God says, “Use that gift.” Use it. He goes on and he mentions other gifts,
V.9 - … gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
Now automatically, we think of laying hands on someone by a minister. And they may miraculously be healed, but I don’t think that is what he is talking about here, because he is talking about all of us. There is a miracle of healings by that same Spirit. That means caring for someone, visiting someone – someone in a nursing home, someone that needs help, someone in unique circumstances that may be not be able to care for themselves – but you can bring healing. You can bring that caring heart to them. That is what he is pointing at here. He says:
V.10 – to another the working of miracles.
Working of miracles – literally acts of power; acts of power. The word for miracles there is “ dynamis “. Dynamis is the same word we get our word dynamite from. So he says we can do acts that explode into goodness just like dynamite, and he doesn’t exclude women from that. Have you seen miracles worked, not just in healing but amazing miracles because of a kind word, because of a heart that is touched? Absolutely. Paul says use that gift. Use that gift.
V.10 - He says: to another prophecy,
First, we think about foretelling the future when we see that word, but he is not talking about that. Someone speaking and talking and conversing in an inspired way, giving words of wisdom, giving words that encourage, giving words that edify – that is what he is talking about here – comforting one another. That is inspired speaking. He says continue doing that – continue in uplifting each other. And so he says:
V.10 - … to another discerning of spirits,
You can distinguish things. You can tell when a mom has a unique gift with this. When your little one has gotten into something, Dad’s like, “Well, I don’t know what is going on.” Mom says, “Something is wrong. Something is going on here.” You see, God gives gifts of discerning. And women have a unique gift in that way – the ability to distinguish things and recognize things. You recognize not only those situations, but you recognize God’s very presence. That is an awesome gift and God says continue to use that gift. Don’t neglect that gift.
V.10 - He says: to another different kinds of tongues.
Some of you have that gift of language – that you can speak multiple languages, or you can interpret, and do tremendous jobs in making that gift a useful gift for God’s church. And so these amazing gifts, God says, are how God is seen working in His church. So as you pray for those in need, as the older women are teaching the younger, as you give financial support to the church so the work can be done – all of those things – all of these gifts that Paul was talking about – are ways that man and woman can work very hard in the Lord. You can be mothers – you can be mothers to the church. You can be giving these gifts. You can be loving. You can be godly wives. You can be setting the proper example. You can be raising and nurturing Godly children – teaching others. Paul is including all of these things in this marvelous list that he gives us, and he says:
V.11 – but one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills .
“As God wills.” Does he say, “…distributing just to the men?” No. Does he say, “…just to the old timers?” No. He says all – isn’t that the word that he used? “…distributing to each one.” So every one of us has been given at least a gift and we can use that gift. He says:
V.12 – For as the body is one and has many members , (okay, what body is he talking about? He is talking about the church, isn’t he?) but (we are) all the members of that one body, (husbands, wives, men, women ) being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
So Paul doesn’t make that distinction between men and women. He says we are all one. So simply because a woman – or for that matter, a man – is not called to preach, doesn’t mean for an instant that somehow we are less in God’s eyes. Paul says here we are to be unified. We are to be united as one body. There is to be a mutual dependence on each other.
And there are so many gifts – so many other gifts that are vital to God’s church – and it is amazing. He goes on right, after this, to talk about the greatest gift. You know what that one is. What does 1 Corinthians 13 talk about? The greatest gift is love. That is what comes next. That is available to all. And women have a unique, unique blessing in how they love.
So I think if you ask the question, “Is there an important calling for women?” Absolutely! Absolutely – a unique high calling to serve. Just look at the amazing list of those women who served in a tremendous way, whether it was Phoebe, or whether it was Priscilla, or whether it was Tabitha, or Mary, or Lydia – any of those women – some of the most amazing names – Dorcas and Tabitha, Lois. All of those were amazing women. We can add all the modern names to that list to show that women have a vital part to play.
And so, should the church fear the involvement of dedicated, converted women? Absolutely not. You see God wants us to realize there is so much work to be done. There is more than even all of us together can accomplish. We have an amazing amount to do and, I believe, this weekend you are going to hear a lot about those things that you can do – those special unique gifts that you’ve been given, and ways that you can contribute and continue to grow, and can continue to serve. So take heart. Take heart.
Women are made in the image of God. And God has given women unique gifts. You are specially gifted – uniquely gifted – especially to reveal the love and the compassion and mercy of God. You’re especially gifted to serve people in a very personal way. So now is not the time to be intimidated. Now is not the time to be discouraged. Now is the time to discover the gifts that God has given you. Now is the time to understand the abilities that God has given to you – to identify those gifts, to grow in those gifts, to use those gifts to serve our great God and His people.
So build on them. Continue to grow in them. Go on to perfection in those gifts, so that you can be that amazing role model – that defender of the needy, that protector of the poor, the guardian of the truth, because there is no doubt, dedicated godly women, who have a desire to serve God, will be a powerful force for good.
So let’s rejoice. Let’s take heart in the fact that God has given women an amazingly high calling. Let’s value that calling. Let’s value their service – your service, your commitment. We need to appreciate and respect the gifts of godly women. And we can certainly be thankful. And we can honor women as heirs equally of the grace of God.